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These New Magnetic ‘Seeds’ Can Heat Up And Kill Cancer

MRI scanners are integral in the detection of diseases like cancer. However, they may soon be elevated from diagnostic equipment to a therapeutic platform. This is because the researchers at University College London (UCL), have used an MRI scanner to guide a tiny magnetic “seed” through the brain to heat and destroy cancer cells.

This innovative and disruptive cancer therapy, which has been tested on mice, is called “minimally invasive image-guided ablation”, or MINIMA, according to the study published in Advanced Science.

It comprises ferromagnetic thermoseeds, which are 2mm metal spheres, that are guided to a tumor with the help of magnetic propulsion generated by an MRI scanner and then remotely heated to kill nearby cancer cells.

For humans, this technique can be a breakthrough in treating difficult-to-reach brain tumors by establishing “proof-of-concept” for precise treatment of cancers like glioblastoma which is the most common form of brain cancer, and prostate, which could benefit from less invasive therapies.

The researchers demonstrated the three major components of MINIMA to a high level of accuracy: precise seed imaging, navigation through brain tissue using a customized MRI system (tracked to within 0.3 mm accuracy), and eliminating the tumor in a mouse model by heating it.

“Using an MRI scanner to deliver a therapy in this way allows the therapeutic seed and the tumor to be imaged throughout the procedure, ensuring the treatment is delivered with precision and without having to perform open surgery,” explained lead author Rebecca Baker at the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, in a press release. “This could be beneficial to patients by reducing recovery times and minimizing the chance of side effects.”

“One in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. While treatments such as radiotherapy and surgery can be effective, they often cause unwanted and debilitating side effects such as incontinence and impotence,” said Professor Mark Emberton at UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science, who is the lead cancer clinician in the study. “MINIMA may allow us to precisely target and destroy prostate tumor tissue, reducing harm to normal cells,” he added.

The researchers aim to use the seed’s structure in an advanced way. It will be able to function as a tiny cutting knife that can be guided through tissue. This would enable surgeons to do remotely controlled procedures and potentially revolutionize non-invasive surgery. 

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